Posted by Dee, 2012-01-22 19:01 GMT
Volunteering at juggling conventions can be divided into two broad categories
1. Volunteering at short non-camping conventions
2. Volunteering at large camping conventions
The requirements are quite different. I think that volunteering at short conventions should be largely organised in advance - a small rota for who is going to cover the reg/info desk, someone (or preferably two people) to run the games and then a team for the show. Most other roles can be quickly filled by a "shout out" as they tend to be short tasks.
Volunteering at large festivals is a bigger problem. It isn't so easy to schedule in advance, as I don't think that it's a good idea to have a very small bunch of people doing all of the volunteering - this leads to burn-out. I'm going to be struggling with this dilemma in 2014 at the EJC in Millstreet, so have given it some thought already. One of the main issues I see is getting reliable volunteers without overworking them, especially for areas of responsibility.
Definitely one thing I've learned over the years is that a simple to use volunteer sign-up sheet should be ready to go before the convention. There will always be certain times when you have many volunteers, and at others no (or insufficient) willing volunteers. That is the nature of relying on volunteer labour. So you need to have a plan for what to do if you don't have enough people to do badge control - are there any non-essential points that can be shut down if no-one is there to cover them? (This was an issue in Munich this summer - lots of entrances into all of the camping areas). Each job should have a brief (but accurate) description about what's involved, so that people can make informed decisions.
However, sufficiently thanking people is really important. The reliable volunteers are not those motivated by collecting badges; but the bigger point of the volunteer badges was not expressly to thank people, but rather to highlight the need for volunteers and to make volunteering more visible. I've already stipulated that for EJC2014 that I need at least 3 others working with me as points of contact for volunteers. Volunteers need to be cared for, this is hard to do if only one person is responsible for co-ordinating volunteers. It's trying to achieve this on a limited budget that proves the big challenge.
Ideally, I'd like a sign up process that allows people to state any useful specialist skills (that they'd be willing to use during the convention), so that we use relevant skills. I'd also like people to be able to state their preferred times of the day for volunteering, or specific times during the conventions that they are not willing to volunteer during.
From the last EJC in Ireland (2006), there are some things that I learned. Getting volunteers is tricky. Getting volunteers to cover badge control at "unsocial" times is especially tricky. Badge control is boring at quiet times.
• At very large conventions you need more than one person responsible for volunteers - I think that you need at least one person just responsible for badge control.
• Checking on your volunteers regularly is important so that they can feel that easy to report issues without it feeling like a direct criticism.
Jugglers like "task orientated" volunteering - and it's much easier to get people to volunteer for this than for scheduled tasks. Going into the campsite or the juggling hall and looking for those who aren't actively juggling and asking nicely is a good way to go.
I've run the numbers on the requirements for scheduled volunteer requirements for EJCs/BJCs. The large consumers of volunteers are:
• Badge Control
• Registration/Information Desk (also merchandise sales)
• Litter picking / Tidying
• Stewarding at shows and parade/games
As the Registration Desk and working on the bar involve handling cash, there needs to be a form of vetting for these roles, but the other roles can be open to most adults. Litter picking can be done by kids, but this needs some caution as it depends on what areas they are litter picking in.
The frustrating element is when people come up to you as a volunteer co-ordinator and say "I'd like to help, what do you want me to do?", when you don't have anything suitable for them to do. This is mainly because they want to volunteer immediately rather than a scheduled time later on and they don't want to go "litter picking" (which is the stand-by thing that almost always needs doing). If this happens a number of times then people say that it's not worth going to volunteer.
One thing that I'd like to see slightly expanded is a "volunteer hangout" area; with a fridge (stocked with some milk) and tea and coffee making facilities. From experience, I'd only have a limited number of cups, and encourage people to bring their own (to avoid a build-up of unwashed cups). Some comfortable seating is helpful. I know that access to an electric kettle is very convenient if you want to have a hot water bottle on a cold night! This is a way of thanking volunteers in a practical way that doesn't break the budget when you scale it up. This isn't a completely sectioned off area, but rather an area marked "for volunteers". I also think that if people are doing heavy lifting [i.e. fencing] for hours then they should be given refreshments to keep the energy going.
I'd also like people's opinions on how to promote volunteering, before and during the convention without becoming irritating. One of the things that I most enjoy about volunteering (which I do a lot of at the bigger conventions) is meeting new people. If I didn't volunteer I would have stuck largely with people that I already knew.
• So what motivates volunteers? Specifically, what motivates you to volunteer at a juggling convention?
• What do you think is an appropriate "thank you" (other than just saying "thank you"!)
• After how much time volunteering do you think that you should be fed?